Arseny Avraamov: The forgotten Soviet genius of modern music


“We can say that with Symphony of Sirens Avraamov launched the idea of ​​using non-traditional instruments for composition and performance,” Khismatov adds. In later works, Avraamov would go on to incorporate tools such as saws, grindstones, axes and hammers into his music.

Instead of a traditional score, he used written instructions and musical notation so simplified that anyone could understand it. “Symphony of Sirens exemplifies a mode of musical creation in which virtuosity, notation, or traditional methods of musical arrangement are removed in favor of a more conceptual approach,” says Stubbs. “It’s about how you sequence and juxtapose the elements. It’s also true for the latest EP from [British electronic musician] Burial as it is for Avraamov.”

Symphony of Sirens was only attempted once, a year later in Moscow, but on a much reduced scale. Undeterred, Avraamov began plotting his next project: installing powerful electro-acoustic devices on Zeppelins and flying them over Moscow. Not content with ruling a city, Avraamov now had the sky in his sights.

There were, however, two problems. First, Avraamov was broke. Second, the revolutionary atmosphere in Russia that had fostered a radical artistic avant-garde was coming to an end. “Symphony [of Sirens] represents what much of early electronic music represents – a utopianism, a lost future,” says Stubbs. “It was commissioned at a time when it was still optimistically believed that the great revolutionary egalitarian perspective of the could work hand in hand -hand with the artistic avant-garde. Unfortunately, this was canceled in time under Stalin.”

The Zeppelin project never left the drawing board, and Avraamov died in poverty and obscurity. Interest in his work did not resurface until the 1990s, and the first reconstruction of Symphony of Sirens, based on Avraamov’s notes and using samples, took place in 2008. The following year, Khismatov launched its own reconstruction (under its favorite translation, Symphony of industrial horns) in a fort in Saint Petersburg. He then appeared at Documenta 14 and influenced a new generation of electronic, avant-garde and politically motivated composers. In 2017 Avraamov made an appearance in the BBC documentary Tunes for Tyrants, with presenter Suzy Klein announcing the Russian as one of music’s forgotten geniuses, and even paid his own tribute to Symphony of Sirens as she stood on a Moscow rooftop and waved two red flags from side to side. Long after his death, Avraamov finally receives his due.


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